Sunday, September 30, 2012

SGX plans to raise proportion of IPO shares available to retail investors

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Exchange (SGX) has proposed to raise the proportion of shares available to retail investors in initial public offerings.

The proposals include the introduction of a prescribed minimum allotment of five per cent of the total invitation shares to the public subscription tranche.

In addition, it proposed a 'claw back' mechanism that would increase the number of shares allocated to the public subscription tranche when the total demand exceeds prescribed thresholds.

According to the announcement by SGX, the exchange is seeking comments on the new proposals and market participants can send in their feedback till October 29.

No taxis? Some offer extra cash to get a ride

It is raining and there are no taxis anywhere. The taxi hotlines are busy. A desperate SMS to other booking services returns the message: "Sorry, there is no taxi available now."

Most commuters caught in this situation will either wait, or opt for the bus or MRT.

But for at least the past year, a number of people have been using an illegal service that lets commuters offer extra money to cabbies for a ride.

Taxi drivers and passengers familiar with the service - which is not authorised by taxi companies and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) - said this improves the odds of getting a taxi when demand is high, such as during peak hours and public holidays.

It is also a way to earn a bit of extra income, the cabbies said.

This is how it works: Apart from the taxi companies' official hotlines, there are at least nine other independent service operators that help passengers book taxis using an exclusive radio network subscribed to by cabbies, sources told The Straits Times.

Commuters call these numbers - some are listed online, others are passed around only by word of mouth - and ask for a taxi. This service itself is not illegal, but it becomes illegal when the operators agree to connect customers who offer a premium to the metered fare.

In such cases, the customer's offer is paged to the network of drivers, who decide if a deal can be made. Offers start from $5 and can go up to $20 depending on availability.

The total fare paid at the end of the ride is the metered fare plus the premium agreed on.

Cabbies said that there are at least 1,000 drivers here who subscribe to these radio operator networks.

They include workers from all seven taxi companies here with authorised booking hotlines. Drivers pay a monthly fee of $100 to join these networks, generally organised by neighbourhoods.

Taxi drivers who are part of these networks declined to go on the record, fearing censure by their companies. The Straits Times contacted three radio operators this week to test the system. Only one - Lake View Radio Taxi Service - took the illegal booking.

The service operator could not be reached for comment yesterday, but on the booked ride, the cabby said customers can offer up to $20 above the metered fare to avoid a long wait.

"It's very popular especially when it's raining and they can't get through the normal booking numbers," he added.

When asked about this, taxi companies and the LTA said the practice was unauthorised and illegal. LTA said it would take action against drivers caught accepting fares above the metered rate.

Penalties include fines and demerit points that can lead to their licences being revoked.

Asked how this practice differed from limousine groups that charge flat fees, LTA said such bookings are made through the companies' call centres and authorised limousine counters.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, a member of the Governmental Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said the illegal service was unfair to commuters as fares would not be transparent.

But GPC vice-chair Seng Han Thong said: "This is the reality on the ground where some passengers prefer a personalised service... It's a happy buyer, happy seller situation."

National Taxi Association president Wee Boon Kim said such networks were a response to market demand.

Professor Lee Der Horng, transport researcher at the National University of Singapore, said he was "puzzled" that the authorities considered such transactions illegal. "After all, it's agreed upon between the driver and the passenger. And it is the passenger who is initiating this transaction."

HPB works with nightclubs to discourage binge drinking

SINGAPORE: To discourage party-goers from binge drinking, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) plans to work with all major clubs in Singapore and popular nightclub Zirca is the first on board.

In 2010, the National Health Survey showed that one per cent of young Singaporeans, between 18 and 29 years old, drink alcohol regularly.

Of these, 16 per cent are binge drinkers. For men, that's having at least five glasses of wine a night and for women, four.

A final year student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Geraldine Lam, said: "Sometimes after we finish an exam or something, we wanna celebrate, we do out and party. I think in a group, there will always be some people that binge drink and then lose control.

"Because when you're binge drinking you look like you're having a lot of fun, because you're less inhibited, you tend to be friendlier with people, maybe that's why it's seen as a cool activity."

But the HPB warns that binge drinking can lead to long-term health problems such as liver disease, brain damage and stomach ulcers.

HPB is already working with TMS Academy that currently offers bartending courses to include a module on Responsible Hospitality.

At partnering clubs like Zirca, about 50 service staff have already been trained in responsible hospitality.

And the HPB aims to have more joining their ranks.

HPB's CEO Ang Hak Seng said: "Our study has shown that interactions between the bartender with our young adult customers actually will influence how much alcohol they will drink. We're educating the bartender to identify early symptoms of intoxication and for those who are drunk, how to say no in serving them more alcohol, instead, substitute it with non-alcoholic beverages."

Zirca's CEO Bernard Lim said: "Sometimes it's not just about sales, not just about dollars and cents, we want to be mindful of the safety of the people in the club, the well-being of our patrons as well, we don't want to have many drunk people around, we don't want to carry people out of the club."

The trick is to set yourself a limit.

At the launch of the campaign, MediaCorp artistes - Joanne Peh and Pornsak Prajakwit - tried their hands in mixing mocktails.

To reinforce the message of going easy on the drinks, there were reminders in addition to breathalyzers.

Partnering with more clubs in Singapore, the HPB hopes to spread the message among the youths that you can "live it up without drinking up".

S'pore becomes conduit to lucrative black market after iPhone 5 launch

SINGAPORE: As one of the first countries where Apple's iPhone 5 has been launched, Singapore's become a conduit to a lucrative black market for the coveted product.

As Channel NewsAsia finds out, overseas traders are flocking to the country to buy the phones for resale, in their home countries.

On 20 September, the night before Apple's iPhone 5 official launch in Singapore, some in the crowd were foreign buyers - all players in a thriving iPhone black market.

Demand is especially high in countries where the smartphone hasn't been launched.

Channel NewsAsia has learnt the traders come from around the region, including Thailand and Vietnam.

And they make quick work of buying the phones.

Trader "Martin" said: "People fly to Singapore and Hong Kong and they queue for the iPhone 5 then they gather some Vietnamese youngsters in those countries and they get together and queue at the Apple stores. You have to hand carry the iPhone 5 into Vietnam. You can only buy four or five pieces."

To amass enough iPhone 5s, "Martin" revealed he has friends who fly to Singapore every day to buy the phones.

Back in Vietnam, an auction is held with the phones going for as high as double the original price.

A 64gb iPhone5 without contract retails for about S$1,200 in Singapore.

Such trading is also taking place within Singapore, as one iPhone buyer says.

Lee Jun Kiat says: "I was actually approached by this couple who offered to take over my iPhone 5 which I had just acquired from the launch event for S$1,100. They asked if I was keen to sell my iPhone and told me I could make quick cash out of it."

But one lawyer warns that such activity may be unlawful, especially when it involves unauthorised dealers.

George Hwang says: "When you're going to buy the hand phone yourself from an authorised dealer, and after one day, decide to sell it, there is no problem. However, when you buy it from third parties, and resell them, you could fall under the Secondhand Goods Dealers Act."

Mr Hwang says there is a list of items under the Act which requires a person to be licensed, to re-sell them.

This is to prevent the trading of stolen goods.

It gets tricky once the phones are overseas, as Singapore does not have jurisdiction in other countries.

A check with several retailers shows that there are safeguards in place, to prevent black market trading.

For example, limiting the number of handsets a customer can buy.

HPB launches Healthier Hawker Centre in Marine Parade

SINGAPORE: Marine Parade now has its own Healthier Hawker Centre, launched on Sunday morning by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Marine Parade has a higher proportion of elderly residents, and with the launch of the Healthier Hawker Centre in Marine Terrace, they need not travel far for healthier versions of their favourite hawker fare.

All stalls at this food centre have switched to oil which has lower saturated fat.

Seven of the stalls have also started to use healthier salt, brown rice or wholegrain noodles.

This is the fifth hawker centre under the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Hawker Centre initiative.

A study by HPB showed that about 80 per cent of senior citizens in the Marine Parade constituency have at least one chronic disease.

The board hopes to help the elderly improve their health by providing them with healthier choices.

By 2013, the HPB hopes to have more hawkers on board with at least 50 healthy hawker centres across the island.

Ang Hak Seng, CEO of the Health Promotion Board, said: "Through our network of suppliers, (hawkers) are able to buy healthy ingredients at the same price as normal (ones).

"Our study also showed that a very high percentage of Singaporeans, close to 90 per cent of Singaporeans, are aware of the importance of eating healthy food. What's important is to create the choice so that they can eat healthy food."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Court of Appeal throws out Sunshine Empire case

SINGAPORE : The Court of Appeal threw out the Sunshine Empire case on Friday, after their lawyers failed to prove that the case raised any questions of law and public interest.

Sunshine Empire founder James Phang Wah and former director Jackie Hoo Choon Cheat were jailed for offences that include running a fraudulent trading company, falsifying accounts and criminal breach of trust.

Phang was sentenced to nine years in jail while Hoo has to serve seven years in prison.

The pair ran the now-defunct Sunshine Empire, a multi-level marketing company that came to be touted as the biggest Ponzi-like scheme in Singapore.

They sold 'lifestyle packages' that promised high returns, but the 'investment returns' were generated from new members signing up rather than from genuine profits.

Their appeals were dismissed by the High Court in November last year, but they successfully applied for permission to take their case to the Court of Appeal.

In court, their lawyers fleshed out their case in front of a three-judge court made up of Justices Andrew Phang, V K Rajah, and Lee Seiu Kin.

Hoo's lawyer Philip Fong said that to call Sunshine Empire a Ponzi scheme was unfair and needed clarification.

Subhas Anandan, who was acting for Phang, said that there were many unresolved issues of law affecting the case, which needed to be resolved in light of Singapore's desire to be a global commercial hub.

But their arguments failed to convince the judges.

Justice Phang noted that just because a company can produce a perfectly legal contract, it does not mean that fraudulent practices cannot occur.

He then described the case as a "backdoor appeal", where the lawyers were disputing facts rather than points of law.

In conclusion, the three judges said no questions of law and public interest have arisen in this case, and added that Phang and Hoo were correctly convicted in law.

More eldercare facilities to be built over 5 years

SINGAPORE: The government will spend more than S$500 million over the next five years to build more eldercare facilities to support the needs of an increasing ageing population.

Sites to build 10 nursing homes, 21 Senior Care Centres (SCCs), and 45 Senior Activity Centres (SACs) by 2016 were revealed on Friday in a joint release by the Health Ministry and the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports.

The Health Ministry said it's important to plan ahead for aged care facilities to serve every neighbourhood, in the same way that childcare, community centres and other amenities to support the population's needs.

Mr Tan Tau Tin takes five minutes to walk from his home to visit his mother at the Man Fut Tong Nursing Home in Woodlands.

The close proximity allows him to visit his mother daily and he said having a nursing home is very important to elderly residents like himself who needs it.

Like Mr Tan, more Singaporeans will also benefit from having more eldercare facilities in their neighbourhood.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said: "Our goal is to eventually make every neighbourhood a senior friendly neighbourhood, by having aged care facilities that can provide accessible care to seniors living all over the island. Many of these seniors are our pioneers, our parents and our grandparents. We too will age. So this investment in aged care facilities is for Singapore and for our future."

A population trend report showed that the proportion of elderly aged 65 years and over was generally higher among Singapore residents staying in older estates.

And so the new nursing homes will be in areas such as Yishun, Jurong West, Geylang, Hougang and Queenstown which will also have senior activity and senior care centres.

The 10 nursing homes will add an estimated 3,300 beds to Singapore's existing nursing home capacity of 9,000.

The government hopes that by locating the nursing homes within the community, it would make it more convenient for families to visit seniors in these nursing homes. It will also help to better complement the range of healthcare services within the community such as hospitals, clinics and day rehabilitation centres.

Mr Gan said: "We do understand that residents have some concerns and some of the concerns once we explain to them, they would accept it. We re-designed some of our original concept so as to cater to their needs and strike a balance between the interests of residents as well as interest of the seniors."

Mr Gan added that the Health Ministry will work closely with the MPs and grassroots leaders to engage residents on how the facilities can be designed to serve the community in the coming months.

He said: "We hope that residents who are living near these facilities will understand the need for these facilities to be built and will support our efforts and plans.

"And we will engage them, share with them the need for these facilities. We'll also be very happy to get input from them how we can design facilities better so we can serve the community in more ways than one.

The new Senior Care Centres will be located in Bedok, Bukit Batok, Bukit Merah, Geylang, Hougang, Jurong West, Kallang, Pasir Ris, Punggol, Queenstown, Sengkang, Serangoon, Tampines, Toa Payoh, Woodlands, Yishun.

Senior Care Centres will provide day care, dementia day care, day rehabilitation services and basic nursing services.

Forty-five Senior Activity Centres will be set up in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Batok, Bukit Merah, Bukit Panjang, Bukit Timah, Choa Chu Kang, Geylang, Hougang, Jurong West, Kallang, Pasir Ris, Punggol, Queenstown, Sengkang, Novena, Tampines, Toa Payoh, Woodlands and Yishun.

Seniors can visit these centres to engage in regular social activities.

SACs will largely be sited at rental blocks or studio apartments and will be operated by Voluntary Welfare Organisations or commercial operators.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

MOM & CPF Board to boost enforcement inspections

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board will increase their joint enforcement inspections on employers by ten-fold from this November.

The increase from 500 to 5,000 inspections a year is meant to improve compliance with the CPF Act and Employment Act so that employees may enjoy their basic employment rights.

This is particularly so with more vulnerable groups like low-wage workers.

Areas of focus include payment of CPF contributions, on-time payment of salary, provision of paid annual and medical leave, and working-hour requirements.

Greater attention will also be placed on industries where the number of cases of non-compliance with the CPF Act and the Employment Act tend to be higher.

These include the food and beverage, retail, security and cleaning industries.

In a joint statement on Thursday, MOM and CPF Board say they will complement enforcement with education.

Through the "I Know My Employment Rights, I Do It Right" campaign, workers will be educated about their employers' obligations towards them.

Employers will also be educated about their responsibilities.

Tapping the power of the community to multiply the effect of the campaign, a hotline and an email address will also be advertised.

Workers and the public can report non-compliance of the CPF Act and Employment Act through the hotline or the email address.

In the Manpower
Blog, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin commented on why enforcement and education on the ground about employment rights is necessary.

He noted that while most employers are responsible, there are some who continue to flout the law, hoping to benefit from short-term gains. This created the need to step up enforcement.

He said it is also crucial for workers to understand that going along with their employers to forgo their CPF contributions is to their disadvantage, as they would be missing out on government subsidies such as Workfare.

Mr Tan commented that even as efforts are made to increase the wages of low-income workers, inclusive growth is not just about money.

A progressive workplace and fair work practices ensure that employers are responsible and employees, particularly low-wage workers, are not shortchanged, he said.

IMF bullish on Philippines, other emerging markets

MANILA, Philippines - The International Monetary Fund expects emerging markets like the Philippines to withstand the adverse effects of the lingering weakness of the global economy that is being driven by the crisis in Europe and the sluggish growth of the United States.

In the latest issue of its World Economic Outlook, the IMF said most emerging markets have become resilient to external shocks because of prudent policies implemented over the past decade.

It said these policies have strengthened the domestic economies of emerging markets and made them less vulnerable to unfavorable developments in advanced economies.

The IMF was referring partly to measures intended to cut government budget deficits and, in turn, slash the percentage share of their debts to the size of their economies.

It was also pointing to measures implemented by central banks that aided in the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves and the stability of the banking sector.

"The recent decade has really been exceptional-for the first time, emerging market and developing economies have performed better than advanced economies as measures by time spent in expansion," the IMF said in the report.

Emerging economies have benefited from their "improved policy frameworks and the ample policy space-room to manoeuvre without undermining sustainability-these improvements have created," the IMF added.

In the case of the Philippines, the percentage share of the government's debts to gross domestic product has declined consistently from about 74 per cent in 2004 to just 50.5 per cent in 2011.

The decline in the debt-to-GDP ratio was attributed largely to measures aimed at shoring up tax collections.

The country's gross international reserves have likewise risen over the years to an all-time high of about $80 billion.

The rise in the foreign exchange reserves of the Philippines was driven by strong inflows of remittances, foreign investments in the business process outsourcing sector and foreign portfolio investments.

In the first semester, the Philippine economy grew 6.1 per cent even as advanced economies remained weak. The growth in the first six months made the government's official target of 5 to 6 per cent for the full year attainable.

Meantime, the outlook for the United States and the eurozone, which serve as key export markets, remains uncertain. The US economy continues to suffer from high unemployment and lackluster growth while many European countries are facing a prolonged fiscal and banking crises.

The IMF said the Philippines and other emerging economies were expected to remain generally healthy despite the ongoing economic problems in the West. However, the IMF also said that adjustments of government policies might be needed from time to time to ensure these remained appropriate to address the impact of a potential deterioration of conditions in the West.

Heineken takeover of Tiger Beer maker approved

SINGAPORE - Shareholders in the parent company of the Singapore-based brewer that makes Tiger Beer on Friday approved the firm's takeover by Dutch giant Heineken.

The vote at Fraser and Neave (F&N), which held 40 per cent of Asia-Pacific Breweries (APB), clears the way for Heineken to take full control of APB.

Heineken, which is seeking to expand its Asian sales amid falling demand in western markets, already held 42 per cent of APB when it made a bid.

"I declare the resolution carried," F&N chairman Lee Hsien Yang said after 98.73 per cent of shareholders voted for the deal.

A Thai faction in F&N led by beverage billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi had earlier emerged as a potential rival to Heineken but later gave its approval to the sale of APB, which also makes Indonesia's Bintang Beer.

Heineken offered F&N $5.6 billion for its stake in the brewer.

Before Friday's meeting in Singapore, Heineken bought an additional 8.6 per cent in APB held by Thailand's Kindest Place Groups, also linked to Charoen.

No more freebies for home-buyers

Does the purchase price of a home include the legal fees, valuations and fire insurance?

Some banks here say yes, and have calculated them as part of the purchase price. When a loan is given out, it then covers the three items.

But that's wrong, reminded the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in a letter sent to banks about two weeks ago. They pointed to Notice 632 which spells out the items banks can no longer include as part of the purchase price.

Among them - stamp duty.

On monday, some home buyers hunting for bank loans were told legal fees, valuations and fire insurance will no longer be absorbed. The New Paper understands banks are going to make an announcement on this on tuesday.

The end of subsidies were part of a series of cooling measures, introduced by MAS that came into effect in January last year.

Depending on the value of the property, these legal fees can range from S$2,400 for an HDB flat to a few thousand dollars for a landed property.

Valuation for private property can range between S$200 and S$500, while for HDB it is S$180, property agents told TNP.

A senior bank executive said: "Individually, the sum may be small per customer. But in total, they can be quite a hefty sum. It is a saving for the bank.

"It's not that banks were not complying with Notice 632. We have compliance officers to ensure we do.

"But it was a question of how to interpret purchase prices."

Last January, MAS told banks to grant loans on the price of the property contingent on the borrower declaring any "discount, rebate or any other benefit from the bank or any other party (including the payment of legal or stamp fees for the purchase) which has the effect of reducing the true purchase price".

Another senior bank executive said the subsidies were only introduced recently to attract customers.

So what would be the impact of banks announcing an end to such subsidies?

A spokesman for mortgage broker Advance Partner said: "The outcome is that customers might switch to another bank which still offers these freebies, even though this other bank is charging a higher interest rate (on its housing loan).

"At the moment not all banks have done away with the freebies and we're looking at a transition period in which customers could be motivated to take up a loan with a bank which still has these offers." .

Low profit margin 
While the interest rate of these other banks "might be higher, it is not that significantly higher", she added.

Mortgage Supermart Singapore's Keff Hui, said interest rates are projected to remain low until 2015.

Property loans would yield "low profit margin" for banks and cutting freebies could give them an "opportunity to review and streamline their costs", he said.

Property experts say removing these freebies would have minimal impact on the hot property market.

OrangeTee head of research and consultancy Tan Kok Keong said: "The cost is not a big proportion of the purchase price, hence it will have minimal impact.

"In the past, when some developers were offering cars to home buyers, the cost of freebies were deducted from the actual cost when you took a housing loan. This measure may just be about tying up the loose ends."

PropNex's associate branch director Ron Lim agreed: "Initially, it will affect the buyers. But people will get used to it after a while and adjust accordingly."

According to a Colliers International report released on monday, the property market is set to heat up even more.

One major factor which may come into play is the US move to print more money, a measure also known as Quantitative Easing 3 (QE3).

The report said the US government's move could drive up property prices here.The weak US economy might drive investors to put their money here.

But Chesterton Suntec International's director of research and consultancy Colin Tan told TNP that he does not think the additional capital flowing into the property market here will have minimal impact because there is "enough supply to dampen pressure on price increases".

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mixed reactions in response to Bishan nursing home

SINGAPORE: There are mixed reactions from residents in response to the Health Ministry's plan to proceed with building a nursing home, the Lions Home for the Elders, in a Bishan housing estate.

Some residents had earlier expressed concerns that the home would block their view and cause traffic congestion.

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Mr Wong Kan Seng said he and his grassroots leaders have worked with the Health Ministry to study how the concerns of residents can be mitigated.

The decision has been made to build the nursing home on a plot of land at Bishan Street 13, after an earlier dialogue was held with Bishan East residents on May 27.

Reactions to the announcement to proceed with the construction have been mixed.

N. Sethuranman, a Bishan resident who has stayed in the area for about 20 years, said: "We thought they would revert the decision, and go for a better place - closer to the MRT or something."

Ronnie Ho, another Bishan resident, echoed similar sentiments. He said: "We are already very congested in this area, so why are we now building a building, putting it right in the middle of three blocks of flats? We'll just increase the flow of traffic (in the area)."

Faraaz, who has stayed in Bishan for 15 years, said: "Residents have mentioned that the view is going to be obstructed and (the authorities) have responded appropriately. They've said they'll build green spaces and make it accessible to the public. It's not going to be just a hospice, I think that's a misconception many people have."

"Right now, what we should do is that since the thing has been decided, let's embrace it and make it better. We had a dialogue and they spoke to us, and they've given us good suggestions like how to make it benefit the residents around here," said Charles Yee.

In a written response to Channel NewsAsia, MP for the area Wong Kan Seng said he supports the plans to build the nursing home. He said with a fast ageing population, the demand for nursing homes is expected.

In response to alternative sites raised by residents, the Health Ministry said it has since worked with other planning agencies, such as the URA and HDB, to study these sites.

But in land scarce Singapore - the green field sites have already been designated for future development to meet critical needs, such as housing and education, and the shifting of the nursing home to other sites will in turn displace these uses.

To address some of the concerns raised by residents, MOH has agreed to cap the building at six storeys. It will also incorporate design features to screen off direct views of the wards and provide greenery to the rooftop and ground floors.

MOH said it will also ensure there are enough car parking facilities in the area. It also plans to keep residents updated on developments and continue to engage the residents about the actual design of the nursing home.

MOH has added that it intends to build more eldercare services in HDB housing estates in the next five years.

World oil prices down in Asian trade

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased in Asian trade on Monday, weighed down by a fall in regional equities and on lingering concerns over the eurozone debt crisis, analysts said.

New York's benchmark contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for November delivery, was down $1.01 to $91.88 a barrel in the morning, while Brent North Sea crude for November dipped 94 cents to $110.48.

Victor Shum, an analyst with Purvin and Gertz energy consultancy in Singapore, said the drop in the oil prices "is not surprising given that Asian stock markets are also coming down".

He said differences between France and Germany on how to deal with the eurozone debt crisis remains a worry for investors.

"Concerns over Europe have caused some selling in Asian equities, and in connection to that also in oil futures," he told AFP.

The leaders of Germany and France at a meeting on Saturday clashed over plans to monitor Europe's crisis-hit banks.

Despite affirmations that European unity was the only way out of the debt turmoil, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande differed over a key plank of crisis-fighting: tighter checks on the European banking sector.

Shum also said comments by top crude producer Saudi Arabia that it will take steps to keep prices from rising too high should press down on prices.

"It looks like on the supply front there's no need for worry," he said.

Boy, 13, meets stranger who saved him twice

Photo left: (From left) Madam Roseline Chin and her sons Bryan Pang, 13, and Brandon, 10, presenting a drawing to bone marrow donor Lim Shi Hong, 23. 
At 19, Mr Lim Shi Hong donated his bone marrow - not once, but twice - to save the life of a nine-year-old stranger.

This was in 2007 and amid protests from his grandmother, who was afraid for his life.

The patient, Bryan Pang, now 13, had Hyper-IgM Syndrome, a rare genetic immunodeficiency disorder that causes frequent lung and respiratory tract infections.

Though the two never met, Mr Lim was kept updated on Bryan's progress by the people at the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) until he left for his studies in Britain three years later.

On Wednesday, Mr Lim, now 23, finally got to meet the boy he saved at the BMDP office at Mohamed Sultan Road.

According to an anonymity clause, a bone marrow donor and recipient can meet only after two years.

Bryan's mother, Madam Roseline Chin, 38, wanted to thank Mr Lim in person and had asked BMDP to help arrange a meeting.

There to meet Mr Lim were Bryan, his brother Brandon, 10, his mother and grandparents.

Initially, Bryan was shy, but his grateful mother broke the ice.

"If it wasn't for this young man, my son would not have a chance in life. He not only came through once, but also the second time when he was approached. For that, I am forever grateful," she told The New Paper.

Bryan's immunodeficiency disorder was not diagnosed until he was three.

"His younger brother Brandon was diagnosed at birth. Since he had the same symptoms, Bryan was tested too," Madam Chin, an early childhood educator, said.

Bryan underwent Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy and was often in and out of the hospital.

In 2007, Brandon received a stem-cell transplant from cord blood, making him the second recipient of cord blood from the Singapore Cord Blood Bank, less than two years after it opened its doors.

But Bryan did not find a match at the bank and had to turn to the bone marrow option.

It took BMDP a year to find a perfect match in Mr Lim. And in the same year as his brother's transplant, Bryan had his at the National University Hospital.

But complications soon set in.


Said Madam Chin: "His doctors thought after the transplant he would be out of the woods but on the 40th day post-surgery, his immune system crashed and he suffered fungal infection."

"None of the antibiotics given to him was effective. He suffered a stroke, became blind in his right eye and fell into a coma. The hospital told me I had to prepare for the worst, unless the donor was willing to donate his marrow again."

Madam Chin admitted she went into a depression and "was not at all hopeful".

"How many people would give once, let alone twice? But Shi Hong was godsend. He offered a sliver of light in my dark period when he said 'yes' for the second time," she said, her eyes brimming with tears.

19 when he first saved a life 

Mr Lim was serving his national service at the Officer Cadet School (OCS), when he was first told he was a match to save a boy with Hyper-IgM Syndrome.

"I was in Hwa Chong Junior College when BMDP came to give a talk. I was convinced it was a very good cause and gave my blood sample. Little did I know I would be called upon," he said.

He said his parents were very supportive when he told them he had been called to be a donor.

"But my grandmother, being very 'traditional', was very worried and was trying to dissuade me. She was concerned that this operation would affect my own health," he said.

When approached a second time and told of the urgency, Mr Lim did not hesitate, much to the chagrin of his grandmother.

"Since I was in OCS, I had to inform my supervisor, who gave me permission to go ahead," he said.

After donating, Mr Lim went on with his life, and Bryan was discharged after spending about half a year in the hospital.

"Someone from BMDP kept me in the loop of the recipient's medical progress. But I lost touch three years ago when I left for my studies," he said.

He is currently doing a post-graduate course in mechanical engineering in Britain and is back in Singapore for the holidays.

President of BMDP Jane Prior said: "We are looking at young people like Shi Hong to step up as volunteer donors. They are in their prime and would be the best candidates to offer help to those who need transplants."

Thank you

To encourage them, BMDP is organising Match for Life, a high-profile drive to recruit at least 3,000 new donors.

Today, Bryan is back at Dazhong Primary, and playing football, something both he and his mother never thought he would be able to enjoy.

"The first day he stepped into his school after his medical ordeal, he said 'I never thought I'd be able to come back here again'," Madam Chin said.

To say thank you to his saviour, Bryan made a photo collage of his being in hospital and his travels after being given a second lease on life.

"It is my way of saying 'Kor kor, thank you for giving my life back to me and allowing me to do stuff other boys do'," he told TNP before presenting it together with a drawing to Mr Lim.

What's Hyper-IgM Syndrome?

Hyper-IgM Syndrome is a immunodeficiency disorder present from birth. A child with this congenital disorder fails to produce certain specific types of antibodies.

It affects only boys, but girls are often carriers. The disorder shows up during the first year of life when the child develops recurrent infections of the respiratory tract and chronic diarrhoea that do not respond to standard antibiotic treatment.

The disorder causes frequent infections of the ears, eyes, sinuses, lungs, skin, respiratory tract and other areas of the body.

Children who are not diagnosed early, may show delays in growth and normal weight gain.

Bone marrow transplants are considered a cure for immunodeficiency disorders that are present from birth.

The best sources of bone marrow for transplants are the affected child’s siblings or one of the parents, as the closer the match, the lower the chances of rejection.

Cord blood stem cell transplants are another cure for Hyper-IgM Syndrome.

Stem cell transplants from cord blood have two advantages over bone marrow transplants – lower rate of rejection in recipients, and they can be stored ahead of time.

Bone marrow recipients, like Bryan Pang, owe their lives to the thousands of anonymous donors who register themselves with the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP), a group that matches bone marrow donors with patients.

Bone Marrow Donor Programme and what it does 

Established in 1993, BMDP is a non-profit organisation responsible for building and managing Singapore’s only register of volunteer donors, who are willing to donate their bone marrow to save the lives of patients with leukaemia and other blood diseases.

The BMDP also provides a 365-day service to hospitals here to search the local register – and if necessary, partner registers around the world – for a match.

Every day, six Singaporeans are diagnosed with various life-threatening blood diseases, such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

Many will not survive without transplant using donor bone marrow or stem cells from cord blood. To date, there are 50,000 donors on the database and BMDP has facilitated over 420 transplants. To improve the odds of finding a match, BMDP aims to increase the register by 5,000 new donors each year.

Next month, BMDP is organising Match for Life, a high-profile drive to recruit at least 3,000 new donors.

Save a life A collaboration between the BMDP and the corporate sector, Match for Life aims to take advantage of the communications infrastructure within each organisation to reach out and educate staff on the role they can play in saving a life.

President of BMDP Jane Prior said: “Signing up as a bone marrow donor takes just a few moments, but the commitment to actually donate in the future if identified as a match, means that people must be fully-aware of the long-term implications.

"By sharing details about our work through company intranets and speaking to staff at lunch talks and other forums, we are confident that more people will step forward to commit to our life-saving mission."

A swab of the cheek for DNA is needed to put a person in the database. The BMDP receives no Government funding, and it needs to raise $2 million for laboratory tests required to add each new donor to the database.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

S'pore govt launches 'myth busting' websites

The Singapore government has launched a new section on its official website that is designed to give answers to hot topics as part of its 'myth busting' initiatives, reported The Straits Times.

Called 'Factually', its purpose is to address questions that have arisen over controversial decisions. Since May, it has collected a series of primers on hot topics.

For instance, the very first question it addressed was whether a family with a $1,000 monthly income would be able to afford an HDB flat.

Topics range from transport, housing, COE, debt levels, procurement, and even the national reserve.

According to the paper, a spokesman for the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) said that the section is meant to be 'a convenient, central and credible platform' for a summary of key facts on certain policy decision.

Apart from this, the Housing Board has also launched a new website called HDB Speaks (, which, as its tagline states, lets you 'Get the facts on the myths of HDB'.

Its sections deal with topics such as HDB for singles, $1 million flats, COVs, and subletting.

Singapore could accommodate six million people in future

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore could accommodate six million people in time to come.

The country's total population stood at 5.26 million as of December last year.

Mr Lee was speaking to Singaporeans at a Mandarin forum hosted by MediaCorp on Singapore's future.

30 Singaporeans took part in the forum. Among them are educators, young parents, seniors and new citizens.

They raised issues ranging from pre-school education to Singapore's low birth rate and population.

The host, veteran presenter Chun Guek Lay, asked what Singapore's ideal population target is if it is to continue its economic progress.

"It's very hard to give a concrete figure, because the situation is evolving. We're gradually increasing our land area, and if we rebuild our older towns, then we can accommodate more people. Today our population is over 5 million. In the future, 6 million or so should not be a problem. Beyond that, we'll have to think more carefully," said Mr Lee.

Participants were polled on whether they think Singaporeans are accepting of foreigners. 77 per cent said 'yes'.

Amongst those who said 'no' was financial consultant Vincent Chua, who said immigrants are in Singapore because there are benefits and they may leave if this changes one day.

"Immigrants are not the only ones who can leave Singapore, because they are not rooted here. Many overseas Singaporeans, they may come home, or they may stay overseas for many years and take up foreign citizenship. We all know this happens. If new immigrants are willing to take root here and be loyal to Singapore, we should treat them graciously," said PM Lee.

Singapore granted some 16,000 citizenships to foreigners in 2011.

You can catch the programme "A Conversation with PM Lee" on Sunday, 23 September at 9pm on Channel 8.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Link@AMK B1 Industrial New Launch

LINK@AMK is strategically located at 3 Ang Mo Kio Street 62 and comprises of:

36 ground floor warehouse units, 

238 direct access units, and 

28 3-storey terrace units with roof. 
60 Year Lease Hold (B1) Light Industrial

Rare project within walking distance from MRT Station!!!

Register your interest now!


Strategically located within walking distance from Yio Chu Kang MRT Station and Bus Interchange


Easy access to major expressways: CTE, SLE and TPE and future North-South Expressway (NSE)


Variety of food centres, banks, retail and entertainment outlets can be found at the nearby Ang Mo Kio Town Centre and AMK Hub


Within Ang Mo Kio Town and nearby Serangoon, Hougang, Yishun and Woodlands HDB Estates


• Affordable low quantum
• Last few strata-title projects near MRT Station for Sale
• Surrounded by Multi-National Companies / Global brands e.g. Apple, Toshiba, Motorola, NCS, ST Electronics
• Minutes to Singapore-Johor causeway


This historic landmark is being transformed into a leading-edge, world-class aerospace facility
designed to meet Singapore and the region’s burgeoning aerospace needs. Spread over 300ha,
the dedicated industrial park will host a wide range of activities including:
• Aerospace Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO)
• Design and manufacture of aircraft systems, components and light aircraft
• Business & general aviation activities
• Regional aerospace campus, which will house educational and training institutes and
research facilities

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Girl, 4, suffers from rare disease that causes tummy to bloat

SINGAPORE - 4-year-old Zecia Chew suffers from a rare condition that has caused her tummy to bloat and look like a pregnant woman's.

She suffers from Gaucher's Disease - a genetic condition where a fatty substance called lipids accumulates in cells and certain organs.

The disease is characterised by the enlargement of the liver and spleen, fat hoarding and a distended abdomen.

Her limbs are also painfully thin, as they have difficulty absorbing nutrients. Being extremely weak, Zecia is constantly in danger of falling and hurting herself.

And if she falls and hurts herself, her bruises take weeks to heal, as her blood platelet levels are extremely low due to the disease.

It is believed that there are only two known cases of Gaucher's Disease in Singapore, Chinese daily Shin Min reported.

As both of Zecia's parents have no history of the illness, it came as a great shock to them when their daughter was diagnosed with the disease.

Unluckily, medical tests revealed that both of them are carriers of the gene. If so, a child has a 25 per cent chance of inheriting the illness.

The first sign that there was something wrong with little Zecia was innocuous enough, her parents Sharon and Avan said.

They noticed that her belly was growing faster than the rest of her tiny frame. Yet she didn't seem to be eating that much food. Worried, they brought her to see a number of medical practitioners, many of whom said she had "poor digestion", "too much wind" or "a weak stomach".

When Zecia finally mastered walking, she did so with huge difficulties, often tripping and falling.

Finally in October 2011, Zecia's bloated tummy, poor sense of balance, frequent complaints of tiredness and many other seemingly unrelated symptoms became too much for her parents to dismiss as "normal" for a child her age.

On October 18, Sharon and Avan received the devastating news - Zecia was suffering from a disease so rare, they had never even heard of it.

$12,000 medical bill a month 

Even with treatment, which costs a hefty $12,000 a month, the swelling of her tummy has just gone down slightly.

Zecia has to go to a hospital every two weeks to have an intravenous therapy drip inserted into a vein for medications to be introduced into her body. The treatment includes enzyme replacement therapy, which helps to reduce the enlargement of the liver and spleen, resolve blood abnormalities and improve bone density.

Without a suitable bone marrow transplant, Zecia will have to undergo the treatment for the rest of her life.

As she cannot find a suitable bone marrow match among her family members, the family is hoping that Zecia 's five-month-old sister might prove to be her saviour.

As Zecia grows older, she requires a larger therapy dosage each session. This means that her $12,000 monthly medical bill will only grow bigger over time.

Her father Avan, 33, is working as a hotel employee, while her mother Sharon, 28, is working as a shipping accountant.

However, the couple's combined take-home pay only comes up to $3,000 a month.

They are currently relying on a medical subsidy of $30,000 to help foot the bills, but the fear is that the money will soon run out.

The treatment bills are too heavy for the family to bear. But untreated, Zecia will almost certainly not survive.

A 'princess' birthday party 

To celebrate her fourth birthday, which falls on this coming Friday, Make-A-Wish Foundation organised a "princess" themed party at Siloso Beach Resort last Sunday.

Zecia, who loves swimming and everything princess-related, had wished for a fun and memorable holiday with her parents and her baby sister.

Upon arrival at the resort, Zecia and her family were greeted by the welcome party dressed in Disney Princess costumes.

The party saw more than 30 relatives and friends invited, and dressed in her very own princess costume - complete with a tiara, wand and glass slippers - Zecia celebrated the next few hours with games, balloon sculpting performance and even a magic show.

A spokesperson for the foundation said after visiting the family, they found out that Zecia especially misses the times the family travelled to China together. Thus, they decided to fulfill Zecia's wish of enjoying another holiday with her family.

The celebration was continued over the next two days, with visits to Underwater World Singapore and the Dolphin Lagoon.

Make-A-Wish Foundation has also agreed to help with fund-raising activities to ease the medical burden of the family.

Interested donors can call the foundation at 6334 9474 from 8.30am to 5.30pm on weekdays for more information, or email

A donation can also be made by visiting her Facebook page at

Nightingale Nursing Home fined a total of S$26,000

SINGAPORE: The nursing home accused of mistreating an elderly female resident has been fined a total of S$26,000.

Nightingale Nursing Home was fined S$15,000 for failing to provide optimal quality care to former resident, Mdm Peh Siew Lay.

The highest penalty for failing to provide quality care is a fine of up to S$20,000 and a jail term of up to two years, where applicable.

It was fined S$11,000 for 10 manpower offences.

Nightingale Nursing Home was charged in April this year by the Health Ministry under the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act with failing to provide optimal quality care to Mdm Peh.

During sentencing on Tuesday, District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim said the incident did not last for a long time.

She noted that there were no injuries and described it as a one-off case.

But she pointed out that it was inexcusable and unacceptable to mistreat Mdm Peh, who deserves the full protection of the law.

The judge said even if Mdm Peh was difficult to handle, the nursing home should have assigned trained staff to take care of her.

Nightingale was suspended in April 2011 from admitting new patients after its staff were caught on video mistreating Mdm Peh sometime between November and December 2010.

Their act was secretly filmed by Mdm Peh's son.

The footage was later shown on MediaCorp's news programmes.

In the video, the patient was seen being flung onto a bed and slapped by staff of the nursing home.

Nightingale Nursing Home was also fined S$11,000 for illegal deployment and making false declaration to the Manpower Ministry.

Its director, Tan Choo Waoh, 65, was fined S$12,000.

Earlier this month, Tan was convicted of making Nightingale staff work beyond the stipulated 44 hours a week, as well as not paying them for overtime work.

Apart from Nightingale and Tan, its sister organisation, Greenview Nursing Home, was fined S$6,500 for illegally deploying its foreign workers.

Court documents showed that the two nursing homes illegally deployed nursing aides as cheerleaders at football games, as well as general or administrative staff.

The fourth party in this case, Civic Ambulance Services, was fined S$20,000 for falsely declaring employees' salary.

11 more US billionaires join Gates, Buffett charity pledge

NEW YORK: Eleven billionaires added their names on Tuesday to the effort by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to donate half their fortunes to charity, bringing the total to 92.

The newest members of the club include Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and Charles Bronfman, the Canadian-born former head of Seagram Co.

The Giving Pledge, announced in 2010, was launched by Microsoft mogul Gates and investment guru Buffett who want to convince the richest people in the country to give 50 percent or more of their fortune to charity.

The group includes CNN founder Ted Turner, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Hollywood director George Lucas, as well as Buffett and Gates.

"We've said from the beginning that this is a long-term effort, so it's exciting to see continued progress over the last two years," said Gates, who is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"This new group brings extensive business and philanthropic experience that will enrich the conversation about how to make philanthropy as impactful as possible. Their thoughtfulness and deep commitment to philanthropy are an inspiration to me, and I'm sure to many others as well."

The newest members also include Manoj Bhargava, India-born founder of 5-hour Energy; and Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Also pledging were Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance; Jonathan Nelson, founder of Providence Equity Partners; Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of The Related Group; Albert Lee Ueltschi, founder of FlightSafety International; and Symphony Technology Group founder Romesh Wadhwani.

New pledges also came from Claire Tow, co-founder one of a major cable television company, and husband Leonard Tow, the CEO of New Century Holdings.

Lewis said in his pledge letter that he would make donations aimed at "promoting a healthy democracy, broad civic participation and public policy -- from the support of progressive think tanks to leadership training for public servants, to investigative journalism, ethics in government, and a democratic media."

He added that another effort he would fund is "is taboo for most philanthropists yet exemplifies disastrous public policy... our nation's outdated, ineffective marijuana laws."

Lewis said he has already funded efforts to enact laws that give patients access to marijuana as relief for pain and nausea and has "made no secret of being one of those patients myself, using marijuana to help with pain following the amputation of my lower leg."

"A majority of Americans are ready to change marijuana laws, yet we continue to arrest our young people for engaging in an activity that is utterly commonplace," he said.

Bronfman said in his letter that philanthropy "is in the DNA of my family", adding that his parents were active participants in Jewish, local Montreal and Canadian charities.

"The dining table conversation was a place for discussing what was important to them in that world -- it is no surprise then, that each of us has contributed to society."

Heineken clears Thai hurdle to buy Singapore brewer APB

SINGAPORE: Dutch beer giant Heineken on Wednesday moved one step closer to a US$4.6 billion takeover of top Asian brewer APB when it gained the backing of a Thai rival ahead of a vote on the issue.

Thai Beverage (ThaiBev) and TCC Assets, both controlled by tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, said in a joint statement with Heineken that they will support the Dutch firm's bid to gain control of Asia-Pacific Breweries.

Heineken in turn promised not to make a counter-offer for APB's parent company Fraser and Neave (F&N), which the Thais want to take over.

Heineken already owns 42 per cent of Singapore-based APB and offered S$5.6 billion (US$4.6 billion) for the 40 per cent stake held by F&N, which is 30 per cent controlled by the Thai firms.

In Wednesday's joint statement to the Singapore Exchange, Heineken said it "irrevocably undertakes not to make a general offer" for F&N, in which it currently has no stake.

The Thais' surprise offer last week to buy all of F&N had cast doubt on Heineken's offer for APB, which is to be decided at an extraordinary general meeting of F&N shareholders on September 28.

APB, the crown jewel of F&N, makes Tiger Beer and other popular brands in Asia, where beer consumption is rapidly growing as sales taper off in mature markets like Europe, Heineken's traditional base.

ThaiBev makes Chang Beer and is also involved in food and non-alcoholic drinks.

According to Forbes business magazine, Charoen is the third richest person in Thailand with an estimated fortune of $6.2 billion as of August, with the bulk of his money coming from his beverage business.

APB, which has breweries in 14 countries including China, reported in August that its revenues for the third quarter to June rose almost 10 per cent to S$781.33 million from a year ago.

Heineken's bid for control of APB is seen as part of an attempt to have an edge over other rivals in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market of some 600 million consumers as well as China.

Apart from Tiger and Chang Beer, San Miguel from the Philippines and Indonesia's Bintang, also owned by APB, are competing with Heineken, Denmark's Carlsberg and other brands from developed economies.

Beer consumption in nine ASEAN countries totalled 6.84 billion litres in 2011, up around 6.2 per cent from 2010, with Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines leading the market, data from research firm Euromonitor showed.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Singapore's rich become poorer: report

SINGAPORE: Singapore's super-rich watched their collective fortunes shrink by 8.8 per cent from August 1, 2011 to July 31, 2012.

According to industry researcher, Wealth-X, people with more than US$30 million in investable assets suffered mainly from the poor performance of the stock markets.

Still, Singapore's so-called ultra high net worth individuals are ranked seventh in Asia as a group.

With a combined wealth of US$155 billion, they have enough money to build 23 Marina Bay Sands or cover the debt of Hungary, the world's 56th largest economy.

Overall, the wealth of Asia's ultra rich dropped 6.8 per cent to US$6.3 trillion in the past 12 months.

And Wealth-X said low-interest rates mean more of Asia's rich will be driven to invest in property, defying government efforts to cool the market.

CEO of Wealth-X, Mykolas Rambus, said: "In Asia, there are almost 43,000 ultra high net worth individuals competing for the same property whether it's Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai - there're lots of assets that are available so I think we'll see property prices continue to go up because there is such demand.

"And increasingly we'll see ultra high net worth individuals invest further afield, whether it's in residential, commercial or industrial, looking for opportunities in the US and in Europe."

Carrefour to close both outlets by end of the month

Both branches of French hypermarket Carrefour in Singapore are set to close by the end of the month in order to restore the premises to its original state.

Leases for the outlets at Suntec City and Plaza Singapura are scheduled to expire in December and November respectively.

Three weeks ago, Carrefour Singapore announced that it was pulling out of the local market before the end of the outlets' lease.

In its statement, Carrefour had said: "Carrefour Singapore announces the decision to close its Suntec and Plaza Singapura stores before end of 2012, since expansion and growth perspectives do not allow reaching a leadership position in the medium and long term."

It had opened its first store in Singapore in 1997.

According to a Straits Times report, the non-food level of both outlets are already closed. Most of the food shelves have also been cleared out, following a sale last weekend.

Plastic sheets were seen covering the empty shelves, and suppliers of fresh meat and produce have stopped delivery, said the English daily.

The remaining dried goods were packed and moved closer to the cashiers to allow the premises to be cordoned off in stages.

In an earlier interview with AFP when the pullout was announced, a senior executive with an Asian electronics company that supplies appliances to Carrefour, who declined to be named, said: "There was a lot of talk (of closing) from the internal staff and they have been clearing stock for the last two months."

Bride-to-be reveals how she saved $20,000 on wedding

27-year-old Fenni Wang is unlike any other bride-to-be.

The online entrepreneur is hoping to get everything needed for her wedding, second-hand.

While most brides would spare no expense in getting brand-new items for their all-important wedding day, Ms Wang is happy to receive hand-me-downs.

In an interview with Shin Min Daily News, Ms Wang shared that she has already collected a few accessories she can use for her impending wedding in November.

These include an ang pow box, a pink feathery pen, a box of rose-shaped soap, a brooch, and some pink crystals.

They were all given to her by other former brides, after she posted notices online requesting for items that they no longer had any use for.

Ms Wang says although some of the items she received are old and slightly damaged, it was nothing some DIY handiwork couldn't fix.

For example, the white ang pow box she received had a few scratches, but after decorating it with some pearls and ribbons, it now looks as good as new.

Ms Wang says although weddings are once-in-a-lifetime, she does not see the need to waste money in buying items that you will use only once.

She hopes to receive more hand-me-downs from former brides, and says she will be happy to return them when her wedding is over.

Her money-saving methods even extend to forgoing the usual pre-wedding photoshoot that many bridal couples easily splurge more than a few thousand dollars on.

Ms Wang revealed she felt the photoshoot was a waste of money as most couples end up keeping the albums in "cold storage" after the wedding.

Instead, she says she will set aside two hours on her wedding day for the photographer to take a few posed shots.

Ms Wang reasons that a bride is supposed to be the most beautiful on their wedding day anyway.

When it comes to the all-important wedding ring, Ms Wang has also gone against the grain, rejecting a diamond ring for a simple gold band that costs $300.

Ms Wang says based on what everyone has told her, the "market rate" for a diamond wedding ring is supposed to be at least two months of a man's salary.

Based on her fiance's income, that would be able to net her a 5-carat diamond ring, she says. But after doing some research, the former civil servant says she realised diamonds do not hold their value as much as gold, and opted for a simple band instead.

She reckons she has saved about $15,000, just from the ring alone.

Including the amount saved on the photoshoot and accessories, she estimates the savings come close to $20,000.

But she is still on the look-out for other items that she needs, these include:
- Five bridesmaids' dresses
- Five groomsmen suits
- Two baskets (for the flower girl and page boy)
- One bridal bouquet
- One umbrella (used to shelter the bride from her home)
- Props for photoshoot

Ms Wang says she and her fiance are all for thriftiness and 'green' living, a cause she firmly believes in.

She even left her job in June last year to set up an online peer-to-peer renting portal,

The site, with the tagline "make money, save money, and be green", offers a multitude of items for rent.

The most interesting "to rent" and "for rent" notices on the site?

One person paid more than $100 to rent 80 wooden clothes hangers for a week, while another wanted to rent two ovens for a day, says Ms Wang.

Singapore recession risk looms after August exports shrink

SINGAPORE - Singapore's non-oil domestic exports (NODX) in August fell more than expected, raising the prospect of the city-state entering into a recession as exports to the European Union plunged.

The trade-dependent Southeast Asian city-state said on Monday non-oil domestic exports (NODX) fell 10.6 per cent from a year earlier, hurt by a 10.4 per cent drop in electronics and a 28.7 per cent plummet in shipments to the EU, its largest market.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, NODX shrank 9.1 per cent after contracting 3.6 per cent in July.

Electronics exports contracted 14.8 per cent in August from July after seasonal adjustments, while non-electronics NODX shrank 7.1 per cent, trade agency International Enterprises Singapore said in a separate email.

"Although our baseline case is not for a quarter-on-quarter contraction, the chances are not minute. There is perhaps a 40:60 chance of contraction," said Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp head of treasury research Selena Ling, whose estimate was the closest among the 13 economists polled by Reuters.

The median estimate in a Reuters poll had been for non-oil domestic exports to fall 4.0 per cent year-on-year and 1.8 per cent month-on-month.

Singapore's economy shrank less than anticipated in the second quarter, thanks to a surge in pharmaceutical production in June, gross domestic product (GDP) data showed last month.

But the government warned of continued uncertainties and downside risks and narrowed its 2012 growth forecast to 1.5 to 2.5 per cent from an earlier 1-3 per cent.

Economists expect the Southeast Asian city-state's gross domestic product to grow 2.4 per cent this year, down from a median estimate of 3.0 per cent three months earlier, the central bank's latest quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters showed.

Singapore's weaker-than-expected trade data follows signs of a slowdown elsewhere in the region, with a survey on Monday showing New Zealand's services sector slowed for a third consecutive month in August to a two-year low. South Korea said on Monday retail sales fell for a third straight month in August.


Looking ahead, economists said the weak August trade data reinforced the widely held perception that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country's central bank, will likely ease monetary policy slightly in October by slowing the local dollar's rate of appreciation.

"With these kinds of numbers, growth momentum appearing to slow down and inflation less of an issue, MAS could look at a gentler slope of appreciation," said CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun.

Singapore sets monetary policy by allowing its dollar to rise or fall against a undisclosed basket of currencies. When it issued its last policy statement in April, MAS said it would allow a modest and gradual rise of the Singapore dollar with a slightly sleeper slope of appreciation.

OCBC's Ling warned, however, that MAS along with its regional peers would be cautious about easing policy too rapidly given the risk of asset appreciation fuelled by the US Federal Reserve's latest round of quantitative easing.

"Asian central banks are worried about the QE side of things and what it may do to asset inflation," she said.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2-year-old boy dies after being hit by lorry

A two-year-old boy of German nationality died after a lorry hit him when he was crossing the road on his skate scooter on Friday morning.

According to Lianhe Wanbao, the boy and his family's Indonesian maid were crossing the road at the junction of Cavenagh Road and Bukit Timah Road.

The maid, who is in her 20s, was walking next to the boy on their way to a nursery nearby when the lorry, which was turning right, hit them.

She suffered injuries to her back as a result of the crash.

An ambulance had taken the boy to the KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), where he later died from his injuries.

Three people were reported to have turned up at the morgue to identify the boy's body on Saturday morning.

The maid has been given 16 days' medical leave as a result of her injuries.

According to the Chinese paper, a 30-year-old man believed to be the driver of the lorry was arrested, and is aiding the police with investigations.

Witnesses with any information should call the police at 1800-5471818.

New women's committee to focus on unhealthy lifestyles, cancer screenings

SINGAPORE: Women below 40 years old need to beware of unhealthy lifestyle issues such as obesity, binge drinking and smoking while older women should be mindful of the need for screening for illnesses such as breast and cervical cancers.

These are the findings by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) together with the newly-formed Women's Health Advisory Committee (WHAC).

And more is being done to raise awareness of these health issues among women.

According to the HPB, 40 per cent of Singaporean women aged 50 to 69 years old undergo regular breast cancer screening.

In Finland, the rate is 84 per cent.

And Minister of State for Health and Manpower, Dr Amy Khor, said that women must make the effort to remain healthy and happy as they play multiple roles and have a longer life expectancy.

"They live longer and it is important for women to take care of their health and adopt good health habits early, so that they do not just live long, but they live well, have a good quality of life, and have peace of mind. Having a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, healthy eating habits and regular health screenings, will (help women to) avoid or delay the onset of chronic disease," she said.

According to the Department of Statistics, life expectancy for women is 84.3 years while it is 79.6 for men.

So the Women's Health Advisory Committee will champion women's health.

The committee comprises 14 women leaders and will assist the HPB in refining its health programmes for women.

Ang Hak Seng, CEO of the Health Promotion Board, said: "Many of the ideas are bottom up. It's no longer HPB providing or thinking that this is the solution that is best for women's health. Instead, the solution comes from the women's group themselves.

"And that is why the composition of the Women's Health Advisory Committee is so important. It's deliberately chosen so that we can reach out to the people sector, in this case the community, the public sector, government departments so that government operates as one, and also private sectors.

"Because private sector also has resources that we can tap on so that we can encourage and build a community whereby we can have better health for the women," he said.

A comprehensive women's health booklet titled "My Journey to Better Health" was also launched.

HPB aims to distribute 30,000 copies of the booklet by November in a tie up with women's magazines. The booklet is also available online at

The committee is working with HPB to prepare a Women's Health Plan that will highlight key areas in health promotion programmes for women across their lifespan.

It will also work with organisations and community groups to form a Women's Network to roll out accessible and affordable women's health programmes at workplaces and in the community.

Singapore's non-oil domestic exports down by 11% in August

SINGAPORE: Latest data by trade agency, I-E Singapore, showed exports declined by 11 per cent in August, compared to the 5.7 per cent increase in the previous month.

The figure was worse than expected by economists, who were expecting a drop of 3.3 per cent.

On a month-on-month basis, non-oil domestic exports decreased by 9.1 per cent in August, following the previous month's 3.6 per cent decline.

Exports to the European Union slumped 29 per cent from a year ago, while exports to Taiwan surged 17 per cent.

The contraction in electronic was due to parts of PCs, telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics.

Need to keep careers in healthcare sector attractive: Gan Kim Yong

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has spoken of the need to keep careers in the healthcare sector attractive.

He said there's a need to compete with other sectors for manpower especially in a tight labour market in the country.

Speaking to the media at a community event on Sunday morning, Mr Gan said one way is to create multiple career pathways for nurses as this would make their jobs exciting and fulfilling.

On Friday, it was announced that the public sector healthcare support staff would be getting a pay rise this month of between 4 and 10 per cent.

16,000 workers will benefit from the salary review.

Lower wage workers can expect another increase of up to 20 per cent by the end of 2014.

"Even as we improve the employment conditions in the healthcare sector, we also see other sectors improving their salaries and wages and other conditions as well because they too are competing for manpower. For Singapore, manpower has always been a challenge... so therefore it is important for us to focus on how to reach out and engage them and provide more career opportunities for them in the sector," said Mr Gan.

Friday, September 14, 2012

16,000 healthcare staff to get salary increase from September

SINGAPORE: 16,000 public healthcare administrative, ancillary and support staff will see a salary increase of between four and 10 per cent from September.

This comes after a review of healthcare staff salaries by the Health Ministry and the healthcare clusters.

By 2014, 2,000 of these staff can expect a wage increase of between 10 and 20 per cent through a progressive wage model.

The model has been developed to help lower wage workers attain sustainable wage increases through productivity, training and job redesign.

It will focus on three key groups -- health attendants, healthcare assistants and patient service associates.

These announcements were made at the launch of the Healthcare Cluster Tripartite Workgroup.

The tripartite partners comprise the Health Ministry, six public healthcare clusters and NTUC's healthcare clusters of unions.

Mr Wong Koon Khian, who is working as a health attendant under the Central Sterile Supply Department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, is one of those who will benefit from the salary review.

"I'm very happy my hard work has paid off," said Mr Wong.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said public healthcare support staff, like Mr Wong, plays a crucial role.

Mr Gan said: "From registration, to catering, preparation of the operating theatre, appointment booking and providing corporate services… the rising expectation for public healthcare services means that the work of our administrative, ancillary and support staff has become more demanding and more complex."

A progressive wage model has also been developed by the workgroup to increase the salaries of lower-wage workers in two years' time by 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

The model will focus on three main groups - Health Attendants, Healthcare Assistants and Patient Service Associates.

Healthcare Cluster Tripartite Workgroup's co-chairman Patrick Tay, said: "These three groups of workers are generally earning less than S$1,700. I think there's quite a sizable group of them and we are setting our sights on impacting these groups and not just in one or two hospitals but across the entire healthcare clusters.

Mr Tay said these workers can expect better pay through initiatives that include the greater use of assistive devices and job redesign.

For example, Mr Wong himself broadened his job scope of just manual duties by undergoing training in a sterilisation course in 2008. He was re-designated as a Central Sterile Supply Department Assistant with a salary range of S$1,000 to S$2,000.

The workgroup hopes that these initiatives will encourage more to join the healthcare sector.

A total of 35,000 workers are expected to be hired in the next eight years.

Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong accept Chee Soon Juan's S$30,000 offer

SINGAPORE: Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong have accepted opposition politician Chee Soon Juan's offer to pay S$30,000 to discharge himself from bankruptcy.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of Drew & Napier LLC said this in a statement on Friday.

Dr Chee, who is the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was declared a bankrupt in 2006 after he failed to pay damages totalling S$500,000 to Mr Lee and Mr Goh.

This followed a defamation suit brought on by the two over remarks Dr Chee made during the 2001 General Election.

Earlier, in a statement on September 11, Dr Chee said Mr Lee and Mr Goh had indicated that they would accept his offer of S$30,000 to annul his bankruptcy.

The SDP posted an email dated September 7 from the Official Assignee to Dr Chee on its website, saying that Dr Chee's creditors - Mr Lee, Mr Goh and the Attorney-General's Chambers - had no objection to his offer of composition of S$30,000.

Dr Chee said he will be working to raise the amount, primarily through the sale of his books.

He added that he was looking forward to being formally cleared of his bankruptcy so that he would be eligible to stand in the next General Election, due in 2016.

QE3 effect pushes US dollar lower

NEW YORK: The Federal Reserve's open-ended QE3 stimulus and a rise in eurozone confidence pushed the US dollar lower on Friday, passing the $1.31 per euro line for the first time since early May.

The impact of the stimulus programme announced on Thursday continued to shake through markets, leaving the euro back in its early-2012 range after sinking to close to $1.20 in late July.

At 2100 GMT the euro was at $1.3127, up 1.41 cents from Thursday.

The dollar also fell against the yen, to 78.37 yen from 77.48 yen, and the Swiss franc, which traded at 0.9272 to the dollar.

The British pound continued its climb higher, too, to $1.6220 from $1.6152.

The euro meanwhile pushed higher on the yen, to 102.90 yen from 100.61 Thursday.

"The US Dollar is taking a beating in virtually every asset class due to the Fed's QE Infiniti plan," said Neil Gilbert of GFT.

"The reason for this beat-down is that the Fed will be injecting additional capital into the current money supply, increasing the number of dollars available, and in turn, decreasing the value of each dollar that is currently out there, to the tune of $40 billion per month."

"The question now becomes, how long will this last?"

Some analysts were beginning to doubt that it would go on much longer.

"We have been neutral on the euro for some time, expecting a short-covering rally on the back of removal of tail risk, and positive resolution of key European event risk," said Jens
Nordvig of Nomura Global FX.

"But with euro-US dollar now at $1.31, and with a number of positive event risks behind us, we think it is time to start fading Euro strength again.

"Given yesterday's QE announcement, is possible, however, that the dollar will continue to trade weakly on a global basis for a little while," he added.
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